So does Charles Krauthammer hit the nail on the head when he suggests that President Obama can win by losing, and that he’s already significantly altered the political landscape in the leftists’ favor?
Consider what he has already achieved. Obamacare alone makes his presidency historic. It has irrevocably changed one-sixth of the economy, put the country inexorably on the road to national health care, and, as acknowledged by Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus but few others, begun one of the most massive wealth redistributions in U.S. history.
Second, there is major financial reform, which passed Congress on Thursday. Economists argue whether it will prevent meltdowns and bailouts as promised. But there is no argument that it will give the government unprecedented power in the financial marketplace. Its 2,300 pages will create at least 243 new regulations that will affect not only, as many assume, the big banks, but just about everyone — including, as noted in one summary (the Wall Street Journal), “storefront check cashiers, city governments, small manufacturers, homebuyers and credit bureaus.”
Third is the near $1 trillion stimulus, the largest spending bill in U.S. history. And that’s not even counting nationalizing the student-loan program, regulating carbon emissions by EPA fiat, and still-fitful attempts to pass cap-and-trade through Congress.
But Obama’s most far-reaching accomplishment is his structural alteration of the U.S. budget. The stimulus, the vast expansion of domestic spending, and the creation of ruinous deficits as far as the eye can see are not easily reversed.
. . . The net effect of 18 months of Obamaism will be to undo much of Reaganism. Both presidencies were highly ideological, grandly ambitious, and often underappreciated by their own side. In his early years as president, Reagan was bitterly attacked from his right. (Typical Washington Post headline: “For Reagan and the New Right, the Honeymoon Is Over” — and that was six months into his presidency!) Obama is attacked from his left for insufficient zeal on gay rights, immigration reform, closing Guantanamo — the list is long. The critics don’t understand the big picture. Obama’s transformational agenda is a play in two acts.
Krauthammer goes on to suggest that Obama’s ability to be re-elected will be helped by Democrat defeat this November.
As for Goldberg, he also thinks that the landscape has changed, but not in the way that Krauthammer suggests.
But what about when the rules change? For nearly a century now, the rules have said that tough economic times make big government more popular. For more than 40 years it has been a rule that environmental disasters — and scares over alleged ones — help environmentalists push tighter regulations. According to the rules, Americans never want to let go of an entitlement once they have it. According to the rules, populism is a force for getting the government to do more, not less. According to the rules, Americans don’t care about the deficit during a recession.
And yet none of these rules seem to be applying; at least not too strongly. Big government seems more unpopular today than ever. The Gulf oil spill should be a Gaia-send for environmentalists, and yet three-quarters of the American people oppose Obama’s drilling ban. Sixty percent of likely voters want their newly minted right to health care repealed. Unlike Europe, where protesters take to the streets to save their cushy perks and protect a large welfare state, the tea-party protesters have been taking to the streets to trim back government.
But even on the Continent the rules are changing. European governments have turned into deficit hawks to the point where the American president feels the need to lecture them on their stinginess.
So which pundit is right? In a way, they’re both right. But in another, more accurate way . . . they’re still both right.
Earlier in the week, I was going to link to something Andy McCarthy wrote. He actually wrote this a while back, but he had just recently mentioned it again.
First, with a significantly bigger and more powerful government bureaucracy, there will be many avenues for leadership to reward Democrats who lose their seats after casting the unpopular votes necessary to enact the Left’s program. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who spent his post-Clinton wilderness months in a lucrative sinecure at Freddie Mac, knows well how this game works — and, under Obama’s command, the economy is becoming one big Freddie.
Second, and more important, Democrats know the electoral setbacks will only be temporary. They are banking on the assurance that Republicans merely want to win elections and have no intention of rolling back Obamacare, much less of dismantling Leviathan.
For my money (while I still have some), that’s an eminently sound bet. The Bunning battle, in which the GOP was nowhere to be found, is the proof. Bunning just wanted Congress to live within its gargantuan means. Yet, the Washington Post ridiculed him: “angry and alone, a one-man blockade against unemployment benefits, Medicare payments to doctors, satellite TV to rural Americans and paychecks to highway workers.” That’s outrageously unfair, but it is a day at the beach compared to the Armageddon that would be unleashed upon any attempt to undo Obama’s welfare state on steroids.
As it turns out, Republicans didn’t have the stomach for a fight over wealth transfers that plainly exacerbate the problem of unemployment. Why would anyone think they’d take on a far more demanding war, in which Democrats and the legacy media would relentlessly indict them for “denying health insurance to millions of Americans”?
Even if the GOP gets a majority for a couple of cycles, even if President Obama is defeated in his 2012 reelection bid, Obamacare will be forever. And once the public sees that the GOP won’t try to dismantle Obamacare, it will lose any enthusiasm for Republicans. Democrats will eventually return to power, and it will be power over a much bigger, much more intrusive government.
Health care is a loser for the Left only if the Right has the steel to undo it. The Left is banking on an absence of steel. Why is that a bad bet?
Krauthammer’s column largely echoes this. The reason I didn’t link to this is because I’m not sure this degree of pessimism is warranted. It’s not that such concerns are groundless, but I can’t help but wonder if Goldberg is on to something and we’re seeing a tectonic shift in American politics.
We have been moving steadily along the Progressive bent for well near a century – what began with a drip with Woodrow Wilson became a torrent under FDR. Reagan stemmed the tide, but the Reagan revolution of 1980 and the Gingrich revolution of 1994 did not fundamentally alter our political culture. Americans, it turned out, still liked the government. They still believed that government was ultimately responsible for making everybody’s life better. Oh, sure, people talked about limiting the size of government, but at the end of the day Bush’s quip that when somebody’s hurt, government’s got to move was one that most people agreed with.
In that sense, then, Krauthammer and McCarthy are right. Obama and the left have made enormous changes over the past eighteen months, and recent American history suggests that these will never be undone. The best we can hope for is a replay of the Eisenhower administration where we merely slow down the assault, but we don’t roll back the changes.
But I also share Goldberg’s optimism. I do sense, along with him, that the electorate is changing, slowly but surely. The populace has not welcomed the rapid advance of government intrusion as it did in 1933. There are several possible explanations – one being simply that things aren’t nearly as bad now as they were then, and the spirit of entrepreneurship is a little stronger now because we’re not quite on the precipice of out and out economic collapse.
In the end, something has to give. Right now I just don’t know which side is the one to give.